Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Baby slings 101

I have been meaning to write a post on the various kinds of slings for carrying babies. Well, here it is! Please feel free to e-mail me (see my full profile, then click "Contact Me") with any questions you may have.

First off, let me warn you: most Moms who buy a sling never end up using it because they don't realize that babies only take to slings if they are used right from the start. It's kind of like swaddling - babies love it if you do it from birth, but probably won't if you try it for the first time when they are 4 months old. They also don't realize that it takes practice and dedication to figure out how to use a sling correctly. Since all our kids are two years or less apart in age, and they all love to nurse every hour or so, it was a necessity for me to make slings work (Either that, or the older kids would have nobody to care and cook for them because I would have my hands full of the newborn at all times.) Other methods of soothing a fussy baby, such as swings, bouncers, etc. are all more expensive, take up more space, and will not make you bond with your baby near as much. The baby will learn early on to depend on "things" for comfort rather than on Mom. If you let the baby sleep in the swing for three hours you will probably feel guilty, wondering if he gets brain damage from the motion (he won't!). But if he sleeps for that long in the sling snuggled up against you, you both will feel blissful. In fact, you can even lie back with the baby right on top of you and catch a nap yourself. Another advantage of carrying newborns most of the day is that it develops and trains their sense of equilibrium (which the aforementioned gadgets do not). All our kids started crawling around the time they were 6 moths old, and walking around 9-11 months - this is two months earlier than the average, but very typical of babies who are carried a lot as newborns. So whatever extra effort it takes in the beginning is made up for by the fact that the babies become independent sooner.

I would say that most of my baby-carrying is over by the time the baby is 6-8 months old. They don't care for it too much once they know how to get around, and I am glad to have my hands and back free. So I am not suggesting you carry your 3-year old on your hip everywhere you go, I am just saying that it is very beneficial for young babies, as well as older babies when they are sick or out of their element while traveling etc.

Before you go out and spend a bunch of money on a fancy sling, sew one yourself if you know how to. If you don't, do some research online, and talk to moms that you see in public carrying their baby in a sling. They will be more than happy to let you pick their brain. A great website that shows all different sling types and their carrying instructions, as well as sells every commonly available brand, is www.peppermint.com

There are basically 4 different types of slings available. (I am not talking about the typical baby carriers that you would find at a baby store, such as a Snugli or Baby Bjorn. None of our newborns ever liked these, are they are not suitable for breastfeeding.)

1) Adjustable ring slings - come in padded or unpadded

Basic design: A long piece of fabric, with two rings sewed into one end. The other end of the fabric is looped through the rings. You can make the sling tighter by pulling down on the "tail" (extra fabric) that will be hanging out the rings. If the sling in padded it will have a soft pad that goes across your upper back, as well as have padded rails (the long sides of the fabric). Personally, I have not found a difference in wearing comfort between the two types.

To wear: Place rings on front and side of collarbone (where you would pin a brooch), spread fabric over shoulder and across back. You can wear the sling on the right or left shoulder, whichever you find more comfortable.

To nurse: Some women use this standard position to nurse, but I find it does not offer enough privacy if the tail of the sling is sewn together (as is the case on ready-bought padded slings). Unpadded slings on the other hand often have a tail that can be pulled open as a nursing cover. In the 3rd picture below, I was using a padded sling with a sewn-up tail, so I put the sling on backwards to nurse. For example, if I want to feed the baby on the right side, I will put the rings on my left waist, with the widest part of fabric covering my entire front and back, and going over my right shoulder. This position does not support the baby as well, but if I have to I can still hold the baby with my right arm (inside the sling), walk around, and have my left arm mostly free. Vice versa if you feed on the left.

- easy to slip on and take off
- not too bulky
- great for breastfeeding discretely
- can be found at pretty much any baby store, as well as easily found used
- inexpensive
- doubles as a blanket when "unhooked"
- the unpadded type can easily be sewn

- weight is not evenly distributed across both shoulders
- baby is not held quite as securely as with other slings, so it's good to keep one hand on the baby at all times
- back carry is not feasible (in spite of what the manufacturer says)

Personal experience: Although not the most comfortable, this is certainly my most used type of sling because I am out and about a lot. Therefore, the fact that it is easy to put on and is great for breastfeeding, makes this my #1 choice for when I am away from home. It is a staple in my van.

The first three photos show Miriam at 7 months of age during our family vacation to California. The last two are of John when he was a couple of months old (taken in Indiana).

2) Non-adjustable tube slings

Basic design: Similar to the previous design, except there are no rings and the ends of the fabric are sewn together, creating a tube or pouch.

To wear: Slip tube over head, pull one arm through so that one end of the tube rests on one shoulder, the other end of the tube across the opposite waist.

To nurse: I would not recommend it unless you have a blanket to cover the baby with. The sling itself offers little discretion because there is no extra fabric to fan out over the baby.

- easy to slip on and take off
- very small and light-weight (easily fits in a purse)
- nice on hot days
- never needs to be adjusted (Note: As the baby grows larger, you will likely be losing the pregnancy weight. The two seem to cancel each other out nicely because although these slings are tailor-made, they will fit well even as the baby gets older.)
- can be sewn quite easily

- weight is not evenly distributed across both shoulders
- baby is not held quite as securely as with other slings, so it's a good idea to keep one hand on the baby at all times
- back carry is not feasible
- expensive if bought ready because they have to be tailored to your size
- not suitable for breastfeeding

Personal experience: My least favorite sling, although I do like to use it at home when the weather is hot and I don't want the extra bulk of a wrap.

3) Wraps

Basic design: A 13-15 ft length of fabric, about 30-45" wide. The fabric is usually light-weight and woven diagonally to give it some stretch while still being very strong.

To wear: There are dozens of ways to tie the baby to the front, back, or side, as well as for nursing. Lots of information can be found online.

To nurse: Lots of different positions. The positions for nursing newborns are the easiest and most discreet - they actually allow you to tie the baby to yourself and use the wrap as a cover for both mom and baby, so the little one can eat and sleep whenever they feel like it, and nobody will ever know. This is easiest if mom is wearing a nursing top.

- very comfortable because weight is distributed across both shoulders
- lots of different carrying positions to accommodate babies' preferences
- great for breastfeeding newborns around the clock while keeping your hands free
- holds baby VERY securely, allowing you to have both arms free at all times
- great for carrying baby on back
- doubles as a blanket (you can also buy special rings to turn it into a hammock)
- makes carrying an older baby or toddler easy

- the long fabric can be hard to handle, especially in public
- can be hot in the summer
- takes some time to learn different ways of tying the sling
- learning the back carry positions is a little tricky
- expensive
- usually only found at online specialty stores
- gives you an "ethnic" look
- hard to find the right fabric to sew yourself

Personal experience: Without doubt, I find this to be the most comfortable carrier. It is my favorite choice to use with newborns (both at home and on the go) because it leaves both my arms free and keeps the baby happy when all they want is to eat, sleep, and be held. As the baby gets older I only use it at home because tying it in public without dragging it through the dirt is a little tricky. (Alternatively, some positions allow you to wear the sling even when the baby is not in it, and you won't have to tie it in public. But people will give you funny looks because it does look a little strange. Not that I really care, though.) My favorite brands are Girasol and Didymos.

In the first 3 pictures below, I am carrying Miriam at 10 months of age quite effortless - she was sick and wanting to be held all day. The other pictures are from Isaac's 2nd birthday (in Indiana) at which time John was just a few weeks old. Not only did I carry John in the sling in the weeks before when I was decorating and getting ready for the party, but he also slept in there the whole party while I entertained about 30 guests, did games with the kids, painted their faces, etc.

4) Asian-style carriers (mae/mei tai wrap)

Basic design: Kind of a cross-over between a wrap and a typical baby carrier (such as a Baby Bjorn). Basically a pouch in the front, with straps that are tied around the back and waist rather than the clips of typical baby carriers. Straps can be as wide as a wrap.

To wear: Again, best to get the many different directions online.

To nurse: Not really feasible for older babies because not very discreet.

- less fabric than a wrap
- more comfortable than a sling because it uses both shoulders
- easy to put on in public
- lots of different carrying positions to accommodate babies' preferences
- holds baby VERY securely, allowing you to have both arms free at all times
- great for carrying baby on back
- makes carrying an older baby or toddler easy
- can be sewn fairly easily

- expensive
- usually only found at online specialty stores
- gives you an "ethnic" look
- not feasible for breastfeeding

Personal experience: None yet. I am in the middle of sewing one of these to try out with the new baby.


  1. Thank you so much for all the great information. The pictures are so helpful. =)


  2. 1) What's wrong with and "ethnic" look?

    2) I've nursed VERY successfully in a Mei Tai. I wore a cardigan over the straps, as it was chilly, and had selected shirts to match. Nursed her all over Disneyland in that wrap and it worked great.

  3. Wendylou,

    1) There's nothing wrong with an "ethnic" look. Obviously, I don't mind, since I use the wrap a lot. But I do think it is fair to tell people that they will get funny stares if they decide to go with that type of sling. Just because I don't mind doesn't mean someone else also won't. Everybody is "ethnic", but this wrap is not main-stream and that makes some people uncomfortable. Since they cost a lot of money I'd hate for someone to buy a wrap and then not like it.

    2) Thanks for the info on the Mei Tai. I just sewed one last week and like it a lot.

  4. I have be reading your blog for quite some time, and must say this one in particular has been a big help. One of my dear friends just had her first baby, she had asked for a sling at her shower and I purchased a wrap for her based on your blog...she REALLY enjoys it. She says that she loves having her hands free and is comforted to know that her baby is completely safe (verses being toted around in a baby carrier.)

  5. This may have already been brought to your attention, but I thought you may be interested to see and respond to this add Motrin released.

    I find it ignorant and offensive to babywearing mothers, and I thought you might want to leave your feedback to Motrin as a babywearer yourself.


    (Although I say it's offensive, there is nothing of an outwardly rude nature... it truly is just ignorant.)

    I hope that you and your 5 blessings are doing marvellously.

  6. Have you ever tried moby wrap baby carrier? I'm just curious what you think of them.

    1. fabulous post Zsuzsanna! i have used a babybjorn [the fist carrier i ever tried] and HATED it. my back, neck, and shoulders hurt. then i used the moby wrap with my daughter just before she reached 2 months and she instantly took to it... nursed, fell asleep, everything worked well. she is nearly 9 months old and we still occasionally use the moby while out and about, but it's a life saver at home.there are days where i literally wouldn't get anything done, or anything to eat with out babywearing! also, to the pp- ruby, the moby is the best one i have tried so far, it's great for nursing, especially in public as you can cover up well and it grows with the baby. there's dozens of different ties to try with it, but it's kind of a hassle with how long it is [6 yards] i think is the standard size. the price is steep too, i think they are around $70! mine was a gift so im not sure how much, but i had looked into it previously. i HIGHLY suggest learning a few good wrap techniqued via youtube so you're comfortable as well as going to a discount fabric store and getting the cheapest cotton, or cotton knit [some people call it t-shirt material] about 5-6 yards. i my fabric for $6 [$1/yd]. i bought my fabric by the yard off a bolt and cut it in half long ways so i had 2 identical wraps, then dyed them purple. now my cousin and i both have matching baby wraps i made for about $10 total cost! you could also take a couple mins on a sewing machine to hem the sides and make it tidy, i personally like the "raw" look of no-sew. sorry so lengthy, hope this helps :]


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